Beating Food Challenges: Storing and Preserving Foods

What happens when a food distribution network breaks down?

Storing and Preserving Foods

Many of us have seen what happens.

We’ve seen it in small scale after an unexpected snowstorm or local flooding.

And now, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we see it on a greater magnitude.

Anyone who remembers any huge catastrophe knows how life as we know it can change in a matter of minutes. Disastrous weather is one of many events that could make it very difficult to find food and other supplies for our families. Hurricane Sandy was not even on the radar when we planned this Rural Living Today series on “Beating Food Challenges.” We actually had the economy and current events more in mind, but in general we just felt it important that people be prepared for anything. If you’re wondering why we encourage people to have some food and water stored up, read Distribution Disruption by blogger Nicola Twilley. When Grist reposted the article, it was titled “Hurricane Hunger: What Happens When A City’s Food Network Breaks Down.”

As you read and view the photos, think in terms of anything that could disrupt your own supply chain. Catastrophic or even just unusual weather, civil unrest, fuel shortage, financial collapse. Add to that personal challenges like job loss, serious illness, unexpected large expenses. You get the idea.

While it’s possible that evacuation will take you far from your stash at home, statistics show that it’s much more likely that you will be able to hunker down in your house and eat what you’ve stored when you can’t purchase supplies, cooking with alternative fuel sources when the utilities are down.

With Hurricane Sandy’s effects still very fresh on our minds, many of us are aware that we could be immersed in an emergency situation at any time. Personally we’re not preparing for anything specific, like an EMP situation or a zombie attack, but we like to be generally prepared for most anything. As you know if you’re following our series “Beating Food Challenges,” we are expecting to encounter food shortages and high prices in the coming years.

So we’re getting ready, and we hope you are too. It’s far better to be prepared and encounter no challenges than to be caught without food and supplies when you really need them.

Stocking up

Two keys to emergency stash food choices are to store foods your family already enjoys and to make sure you have ways to prepare the food. And don’t forget water, that essential ingredient that all humans, pets, and livestock require. If your well or tap goes dry, you’ll need water for drinking and food preparation. It’s also helpful to have water on hand for flushing toilets, cleaning, laundry, and other household uses. Our progress towards a sustainable self-sufficient lifestyle centers around producing much of our own food. But storing food raised elsewhere is definitely a part of our plan. For one, we enjoy some foods we’ll never be able to grow. Secondly, our farm is still in its growing years and we don’t yet produce everything we’d like to. So we use several methods to stock up our food storage pantry.

We preserve whatever excess we have from the summer growing season. After enjoying fresh produce and sharing some with others, we usually have some fruit, veggies, meat and poultry to dehydrate and can for longterm storage. We also freeze food, but since our freezers require electricity that could become unavailable, we don’t rely on them for the bulk of our stored food.

We purchase bulk meat, large bags of dry staples, tropical spices, and packaged goods. We routinely buy extra packaged food, but once in a while we make a special effort to fortify our emergency food storage program. Spices will lose their potency over time, but since we can’t grow them they will still be appreciated. While some of our meat and poultry is already frozen, in the event of a serious power loss we could use our alternate-fuel stoves and pressure canners to get the meat into jars fairly quickly.

We think beyond food itself to include food-related items. We try to expand the foods themselves to include peripheral needs. Cold and room temperature food can get boring, so a way to heat it can be a huge plus. And if power is unavailable or scarce during the prime harvest season, we want to have a way to preserve our produce.

Here are some ideas for food-related items:

  • matches, propane, kerosene
  • extra equipment, supplies, packaging, and containers for dehydrating, freezing, and canning
  • garden seeds (even if you save seeds each year, it can’t hurt to have a stash of extras)
  • feed/feed seeds for the livestock that produces your meat and eggs

Storing food and water

Our first year in this four-season climate, we discovered that our barn/garage gets freezing cold in the winter–one shattered bottle made us wake up and smell the apple cider vinegar! During the summer, the barn gets too hot for some foods. So our ideal food storage system includes a cool root cellar, an insulated utility closet in the barn, and a closet in an indoor room that’s kept at a low level room temp.

What do you need in order to start or augment your food storage plan?

There’s a solution for your food storage challenges, too! Here’s where our friends in the Internet community come in. Thanks to the Internet and blogosphere, there are tons of excellent resources on storing food, water, and other household supplies in various situations and configurations.

And a couple of print books of note

Emergency Food Storage & Survival Handbook by Peggy Layton

Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel

Preserving food

Again, the Internet, libraries, and bookstores are full of excellent resources, ideas, and recipes for food preservation. But one of the best ways to learn to preserve food is to join a friend who knows how or take a hands-on class where you can “learn by doing” alongside someone who knows the ropes. Besides, it’s much more fun and efficient to can with a friend than all alone.

Please preserve safely!

We encourage you to pay special attention to food safety. Your stored food will do you no good if it spoils or makes your family sick.

The main food preservation safety rule we live by is to use a pressure canner (not a pressure cooker, not a water bath canner) for all low-acid foods including meats and vegetables. This includes high-acid fruits that are canned with low-acid herbs or vegetables.

This is for your own health and safety and that of your family. Food poisoning and botulism are never fun and they can have disastrous results.

Be aware that over the years, plants are continuously adapted for resistance and resilience in the garden, and many products that were originally high in acid are no longer high in acid. This is especially true with hybrid tomatoes. Even though our great-grandmothers canned something in a water bath canner, it may not be safe today. Knowing your varieties makes good sense.

Excellent places to start

To ensure food safety, we rely heavily on information based on scientific research, usually from universities or university extension offices.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation

Extension.org

Some good mainstream books, articles, and websites

Ball Canning website  at FreshPreserving.com

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine

Put ’em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton

The Home Preserving Bible by Carole Cancler

Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff

Safe Food Storage for Fruits and Vegetables by Kris Wetherbee at GRIT.com

Canning and Preserving at Hobby Farms

Learn How to Pickle by Eugenia Bone at Mother Earth News

Rendering and Preserving Lard by Kellene Bishop at Preparedness Pro

Homesteading with Jackie Clay food preservation archives at Backwoods Home

Got more favorites? Please share them in the comments section!

Previous posts in our Beating Food Challenges series:

Ten Realistic Ways to Overcome a Food Crisis

More About Beating Food Shortages and High Prices

Beating Food Challenges: Growing Veggies, Herbs, and Fruit

Beating Food Challenges: Raising Meat, Eggs, and Dairy 

Beating Food Challenges: Finding Local Products

In this series, we’re listing some great resources for each of our ten topics: growing vegetables, herbs, and fruitraising meat, eggs, and dairylocal food sources and buying freezer meat; food storage; food preservation; sprouting; foraging; bartering; and learning more and more to help along the way.